A Gilded Age Thanksgiving Dinner in London (1891)

By Skip Moskey

Larz Anderson, ca. 1888. Probably taken around the time of his graduation from Harvard College. (Source: Anderson Collection, Society of the Cincinnati)

[For almost three years after his 1888 graduation from Harvard, Larz Anderson (1866-1937) did all that he could to avoid the issue of work and career.  Between the summer of 1888 and the fall of 1889, he traveled around the world on his father’s dime.  When he returned, he resisted his father’s attempts to get him started in a business career in New York City, and then when he agreed to his father’s suggestion that he pursue a career in the law, he dropped out of Harvard Law School in spring 1891 after only two semesters. His father again stepped in and this time used his government connections to obtain a job for Larz as a junior diplomat at the American Legation in London.  What follows is based on Larz’s own account of this first Thanksgiving abroad, in 1891, which he celebrated with the noted American historian Henry Adams.  When this excerpt from Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age opens, Larz and Henry had just seen each other in Paris the previous month, and were reunited when Henry unexpectedly came to London.] 

A few weeks after Larz returned to his post from Paris, Adams arrived in London, and the two men again spent time together. Larz’s duties at the legation included entertaining American dignitaries in London, but the fifty-three-year-old Adams was not just anyone to Larz. Henry was one of his father’s best friends and had known both his grandfather Larz Anderson I and his great-uncle Major Robert Anderson. The twenty-five-year-old Larz had more than an official obligation to Adams. He also had a profoundly personal duty to be as hospitable and helpful to his family’s famous friend as he could be.

38 Clarges Street, London, as it appears today. When Larz lived here from 1891-1894, it was a private home that rented rooms to gentlemen. Larz occupied the rooms on the second floor at the front of the house. Henry Adams also lived here in January 1892.










Larz wrote home about many of his engagements with Adams. The first report was about their dinner together on Thanksgiving night at the Bristol Hotel, and old, family-style hotel that had been established in 1866 when two townhouses were conjoined.  The hotel’s manager Ignacio Lersundi, a Spaniard, gave “one of the best, if not the best, table-d’hôte dinners obtainable in the English capital,” as one Gilded Age travel guidebook put it.

Larz reciprocated by inviting Adams to a private Thanksgiving dinner-for-two the next evening in his rooms on Clarges Street. Larz wrote excitedly to his parents about both dinners: “Mr. Henry Adams is coming to dine with me. Now I am anticipating this with much pleasure—for last evening Mr. Adams and I had a night of it; he was just as anxious to go to it and have a good time as any young man, and infinitely more amusing and interesting—I dined with him well at the Bristol and it was one o’clock before I got home.”

“A little fat Norfolk turkey.” Larz specified this kind of turkey for his little Thanksgiving dinner with Henry Adams in his rooms on Clarges Street,  November 27, 1891. (Photo via cornwallturkeys.com)

The dinner on Clarges Street was not impromptu. Larz went to great lengths to make the dinner as authentically American as possible. He purchased a “little fat Norfolk turkey” that his landlady, Mrs. Mace, roasted, stuffed with chestnuts, and served with cranberry sauce, along with “some other courses.” The Thanksgiving plans had obviously been in play for at least a few days, with enough time for Larz to make arrangements for the special meal.

[After Thanksgiving, Henry Adams returned to Paris, where he spent Christmas with his “BFF” Elizabeth Sherman Cameron before returning to London in early January 1892.  On this visit, he took his own set of rooms at 38 Clarges Street, where he lived in domestic happiness with Larz Anderson for the next month.] 

Henry Adams (1838-1918) ca. 1880. Adams was a classmate of Nicholas L. Anderson, Larz’s father, and had known Larz as a teenager and young adult.

After returning to London, Adams was more than delighted to now be rooming with his young diplomat friend. Henry’s letters to Elizabeth Cameron were filled with effusive expressions of affection for Larz. On his first day back in London, January 11, 1892, he wrote to her, “I am here at last, in Clarges St., and Larz Anderson for companion. After my long solitude I love him like the sun and moon and planets and Sirius on top of all.”

Henry and Larz quickly developed an easy domesticity that included having breakfast together every day and Henry seeing Larz off to work. One morning Larz directed his landlady to bake American-style cornbread for their breakfast as a special treat for Henry. On January 15, Adams wrote to Lizzie, “Now that breakfast is finished and Larz gone to see how his chief is, I sit down to read your news,” and on January 21, “A lovely dark day, black as night, and full of refined feeling. Larz and I have breakfasted, and he has gone to his diplomatic duties.”

[Eventually, Henry slipped out of London while Larz was on a vacation in southern France that had been planned for him by his bosses at the American legation. It is possible they were uncomfortable with Henry’s cohabitation with Larz, and the amount of time the two spent together. After Henry left London, Larz and Henry would never see each other again. Indeed, Larz may have eventually become uncomfortable with Henry’s attentions.] 

If Adams was infatuated with Larz in London, years later Larz was infuriated with Adams. When The Education of Henry Adams was commercially published after Adams’s death in 1918, Larz wrote angrily on the flyleaf of his own copy: “The insincerity of the man and his work is proved by the fact that he doesn’t mention his wife or his marriage both of which meant much in his life!” Larz almost certainly figured out Henry Adams was in some way in love with him in London in 1891–1892 and could find no way to express his chagrin other than to excoriate Adams for excising his marriage and his wife from his autobiography.

[For more about “The Henry Adams Interlude” and the rest of the story of the fascinating lives and lifestyle of Larz and Isabel Anderson, please click here.]

“The insincerity of the man and his work is proved by the fact that he doesn’t mention his wife or his marriage both of which meant much in his life!” Larz Anderson’s inscription on the flyleaf of his personal copy of “The Education of Henry Adams,” ca. 1918. (Source: Photo by Skip Moskey.)